Center of attention: McCutchen could be long remembered
TribLIVE Sports Videos
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Quick: Think of the greatest outfielders in Pirates history.
Who came to mind• Roberto Clemente and Barry Bonds, probably.
Good choices. That covers right field and left field. So who's in center?
"I don't know. I guess we'll find out," Andrew McCutchen said, smiling because he was quick to pick up on where this question was heading. "There have been some great ones here. We had (Andy) Van Slyke, (Omar) Moreno. Those are the main two I hear a lot of talk about, as far as guys from the past."
McCutchen paused and smiled again.
After just 420 games in the majors, it might be premature to put McCutchen, 25, in the same class as Bill Virdon and Matty Alou or Hall of Famers Lloyd Waner and Max Carey. But McCutchen has done nothing in his first 2 1⁄2 seasons to make anyone think he won't someday be among their company.
Just two seasons after finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting, McCutchen last year earned his first All-Star berth. His production has been above average and consistent yet also shows signs of growth.
To quantify a player's value, sabermetricians use Wins Above Replacement Player, which compares a player's performance to that of a fictitious Triple-A player who would take his place if he were injured. Most veteran major league starters earn 3 to 5 WARP over the season.
As a rookie, McCutchen's WARP was 1.7, as computed by Baseball Prospectus. In 2010, his WARP was 3.1. Last season, when McCutchen's batting average dipped by 27 points but his home run total nearly doubled, his WARP grew to 5.2.
All signs point to that trend continuing as McCutchen moves into his prime of his career. Not coincidentally, that's the same stretch the Pirates locked up by signing McCutchen to a $51.5 million contract extension last week.
"It's a win-win," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We're very confident that Andrew understands the commitment that's been made to him, and we understand the commitment he's made to us."
It probably won't take long before Pirates fans rate McCutchen the equal of Van Slyke, Moreno and other great center fielders in the franchise's 130-year history. While McCutchen would welcome that, deep in his heart he would love to be the next Ken Griffey Jr. -- one of the greatest center fielders of baseball's modern era.
"Griffey was the guy I watched, growing up as a kid," McCutchen said. "Some guys wanted to be like Mike. I definitely wanted to be like Griffey."
In 2006, before he was even in Double-A, McCutchen met Griffey for the first time. Rusty Kuntz, then a Pirates coach, introduced them during batting practice. Recalling the moment, McCutchen laughed and admitted he was star-struck.
Griffey's logo is on McCutchen's workout shirt and cleats. Two years ago, Griffey called McCutchen and asked if he would endorse his line of clothing and shoes produced by Nike.
"That was pretty neat," McCutchen said, shaking his head and laughing again. "He's a guy I watched growing up, and now I know him personally. It's crazy how things happen."
Images of Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen from 2012 spring training in Bradenton, Florida.
Strong up the middle
Strong up the middle
Several standout center fielders have played in Pittsburgh for the Pirates, Crawfords and Grays:
• Matty Alou: Led NL with .342 average in 1966
• James 'Cool Papa' Bell: Fastest man in Negro Leagues
• Max Carey: 10-time NL stolen-base leader
• Oscar Charleston: Player-manager of 1932 Crawfords
• Kiki Cuyler: 2nd in MVP voting in 1925
• Omar Moreno: 77 stolen bases in 1979
• Al Oliver: Seven-time All-Star
• Andy Van Slyke: Five straight Gold Gloves (1988-92)
• Bill Virdon: Led NL in triples and won Gold Glove in 1962
• Lloyd Waner: 'Little Poison' hit .319 over 17 years
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Gameday: Pirates vs. Padres, May 29, 2015
- Pirates’ Morton hopes he’s past injury-riddled part of career
- Pirates pitching prospect Kingham undergoes Tommy John surgery
- Starkey: Kang story of the year for Pirates
- Pirates notebook: Struggling Polanco held out of starting lineup
- Gameday: Pirates at Padres, May 28, 2015
- Book details secret to Pirates’ turnaround
- Pirates’ McCutchen laughs off pay stub leak
- Pirates win 5th straight as offense continues to click in win over Marlins
- Pirates use big 7th inning to sweep Marlins, stretch winning streak
- Pirates notebook: Alvarez having success looking the other way